NORTH BAY – After nearly 25 years in Petaluma, Barbara’s Bakery will depart in June. Parent company Weetabix is consolidating operations, giving Barbara’s 24 employees the option of moving to Massachusetts or seeking other jobs.
Yet times are good for most food manufacturers in the North Bay. The improving economy has been kind to the food business as consumers treat themselves in restaurants and supermarkets.
For instance, Amy’s Kitchen has announced it’ll delay opening a new plant in South Carolina, but not through lack of business. To satisfy growing demand for its organic entrees the 1,600-employee company plans to expand operations in both Sonoma County and Oregon.
La Tortilla Factory, which recently welcomed Sam Tamayo as third generation leader of the Santa Rosa specialty foods manufacturer, said the company grew in just the last few years from 175 to nearly 300 employees and more than doubled revenues to $50 million.
Midsized, independent companies are flourishing as well, adding staff and growing channels. And they’re committed to staying local.
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“We’re not going anywhere,” said Joseph Tuck, CEO of Alvarado Street Bakery. The worker-owned organic bakery has been shipping its sprouted wheat breads from Petaluma for over 30 years.
Four years ago Alvarado Street moved into a new, 75,000-square-foot plant on South McDowell Boulevard, a move that suited the employee-owned company’s staff of 114 very well, he said. The bakery recently added two shifts, with staff to support them.
“When you’re employee-owned, you stay where they live, and we all live here, to our good fortune,” said Mr. Tuck.
Equally happy to be in the North Bay is Torn Ranch, a family-owned maker of corporate gifts that expanded into 50,000 square feet in a move from Novato to Petaluma.
The 75-employee company is growing its product lines, customer list and channel partners, said President and CFO Dean Morrow, co-owner with his wife, Sue.
“We like it here. We signed a long-term lease,” said Mr. Morrow.
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In Napa, Tulocay and Co. advertises its all-natural oils, dips, rubs, condiments, baking mixes and cereals as Napa-made.
Operating from a 60,00- square-foot facility near the Napa airport, family-owned Tulocay is adding to its staff of about 70 as its products migrate from fancy food aisles to mainstream consumer outlets.
“Our baking mixes and cereals are really taking off and we’re developing new products to meet consumer demand for healthy foods,” said Karen Foley, Tulocay senior vice president of sales.
“The nice thing about being relatively small is that we can react quickly to market trends,” she said.
The company’s private label business is also seeing a burst of activity.
“This is a good time for us. Attendance is way up at specialty food shows and there are more new vendors on the scene every day.”
In Marin County, Mighty Leaf Tea saw its food service channels bounce back from slumping restaurant, hotel and cruise line business, and retail sales are booming, according to CEO Gary Shinner.
The 60-employee, independently owned tea importer is “still in expansion mode,” he said. Mighty Leaf Tea is sold in over 11,000 stores in 40 countries, generating sales of $30 million.